4 months ago

ADCNR named Agency of Year at Sportsmen’s Caucus Summit

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently received special recognition by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation with the presentation of the State Agency of the Year Award at the 16th Annual National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Sportsman-Legislator Summit in Greensboro, Georgia.

“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is honored to recognize the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) as the State Agency of the Year,” said Jeff Crane, CSF President. “The DCNR has been a consistent supporter of CSF, NASC, and the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and, through this support, the Caucus in Alabama has grown tremendously to become a strong and effective voice for sportsmen and women. CSF thanks Commissioner Chris Blankenship, Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes for their continued support and steadfast dedication to Alabama’s vast natural resources.”

Hosted by the CSF, this year’s Summit brought together 50 legislators and leaders from state fish and wildlife agencies to discuss the theme “Partners Advancing America’s Conservation Movement: NASC, Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Industry and NGOs.” Topics discussed included promoting hunting and fishing, boating access, chronic wasting disease (CWD), the spread of invasive Asian carp and a variety of other issues affecting sportsmen and women.

“This is the largest gathering of pro-sportsmen legislators who come together to discuss issues that are of great importance to our hunting and angling traditions,” Crane said. “The 16th Annual NASC Summit was successful in that it brought together our bipartisan caucus leaders and members, fish and wildlife agency leaders, NGO (non-governmental organizations) representatives, and leading industry partners to focus on how to advance opportunities for sportsmen and women and to ensure sound, science-driven conservation policies are enacted.”

DCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship said he was elated that the Department was awarded the CSF’s State Agency of the Year.

“We were very happy that we were recognized for multiple initiatives by the Department,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Foundation noted several reasons for the recognition, starting with Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon and all the work that has been done with red snapper. Alabama has been the leader in securing the state management of red snapper. The work we did in Congress helped inform the legislators on the issues on the Gulf Coast with the short seasons. We were able to work with the congressional delegations in Washington to implement the exempted fishing program (EFP) for the past two years and then win approval of management for the long-term.”

The EFP was in effect for the 2018 and 2019 red snapper seasons. Each of the Gulf states was given a snapper allocation, and each state managed its allocation.

Alabama’s quota was slightly more than a million pounds of red snapper in each of the two years of the EFP. The timely data from the mandatory Alabama Snapper Check program allowed Marine Resources to manage to the quota each year.

This year the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passed regional management of red snapper. That amendment is awaiting the signature of the Secretary of Commerce and will go into effect for 2020 and beyond.

“The Foundation also recognized the work that Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes is doing with Senator (Doug) Jones (D-Alabama) and Senator (Cindy) Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) concerning funding for CWD research as well as the work Chuck is doing as the president of SEAFWA (Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies) on a myriad of hunting and fishing initiatives,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We have also worked with Senator (Richard) Shelby (R-Alabama) and, to a lesser extent, Senator (Lamar) Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Senator (Mitch) McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Asian carp issues. We want to reduce Asian carp populations in Tennessee and Kentucky rivers and keep them contained in the rivers upstream that flow into Alabama.”

WFF’s Sykes said a great deal of the recognition from the CSF was due to Alabama’s willingness to meet and discuss the issues that are facing the nation’s sportsmen and women.

“The Department has allowed me to come to the CSF’s Summits to share a variety of programs we are doing,” said Sykes, who also serves on the executive committee of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “I’ve spoken at three of the last four events. The hunting and fishing days that the Department has promoted were mentioned as well as our CWD response plan and major educational campaign. The Foundation said they appreciated the time I had taken to come and participate in roundtable discussions with legislators around the country on important issues, from funding to our R3 efforts.”

The R3 effort stands for recruitment, retention and reactivation. Those R3 activities try to recruit new participants or increase participation rates of current or lapsed outdoor enthusiasts.

Sykes also said the Foundation recognized the contributions of the WFF’s Special Opportunity Area (SOA) and adult mentored hunting programs, programs in the Alabama Black Belt and the promotion of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Day annually to help educate legislators on outdoors issues and improve Caucus participation and increase Caucus membership.

“Our legislators were happy to see the Department recognized,” Sykes said.

Commissioner Blankenship said the State Lands Division, under Director Patti McCurdy, contributed through its efforts to expand public boating access in Alabama. McCurdy has worked with the staffs in D.C. to continue to promote recreational access funding in Coastal Alabama. Through several funding sources, improvements to boating and angling access are planned for Bayou La Batre, Dauphin Island, the Intracoastal Waterway in Baldwin County, and the Middleton Causeway site on Battleship Parkway at the north end of Mobile Bay, Foley and Daphne.

Commissioner Blankenship also cited the work of Bee Frederick, who was the CSF’s representative in Alabama until recently, for holding annual events in Montgomery to promote the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.

“Bee was very helpful in getting the legislators more involved in hunting and fishing issues and helping us provide the scientific and management information to make informed decisions,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Caucus’ legislative agenda has been very helpful for the Department and people who hunt and fish in Alabama. The award highlights the work we do in Washington and in Montgomery with the Alabama Legislature. I think those relationships we built in Washington and here at the State House are very valuable when issues come up that affect sportsmen and women. We can pick up the phone and discuss the issues with the legislators or their staff. I think we have built a great amount of trust that we will provide them with balanced information so they can make good decisions.”

Other than naming the Alabama DCNR as State Agency of the Year, the CSF handed out several other awards at the Georgia Summit.

The Friends of NASC Award went to Shimano American Corp. and Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever.

NASC Heritage Awards were presented to Rep. David Wilson (CT), Sen. Mike Bell (TN), Sen. Mark Allen (OK), and Rep. Casey Snider (UT).

During the Summit, CSF announced the signing of a partnership with Birmingham-based B.A.S.S. to further conservation efforts. Safari Club International (SCI) was also recognized for its long-standing financial support of NASC and the annual summit.

Founded in 1989, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation was formed to work with Congress, governors, and state legislatures to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting and trapping.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

39 mins ago

Jefferson County: Recovering elderly COVID-19 patients must be returned to their nursing homes

The Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) is asking nursing homes in the area to take back patients still testing positive for the coronavirus, according to a letter brought to light by the Alabama Nursing Home Association (ANHA).

The leading studies available have shown that COVID-19 is much more deadly for people over 65 than any other age group.

ANHA communications director John Matson told Alabama Media Group that the new county guidelines go “against sound medical advice.”

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The JCDH cites “the possibility that our hospitals will not have the capacity to care for a large number of patients infected with COVID-19” as the reason for nursing homes to take in the coronavirus-positive patients.

According to the department, individuals testing positive for the virus will only be returned to a nursing home if two conditions are both met:

  • At least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery, defined as resolution of fever without use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath)
  • At least seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

The department added that some patients may be returned before those conditions are met if their facility is able to adopt certain extra precautions.

Because the new guidelines are being issued by the Jefferson County Department of Health, they only apply to nursing homes in Jefferson County.

Additionally, patients hospitalized without COVID-19 symptoms do not have to test negative before being readmitted to their nursing home.

“For weeks we haven’t allowed family members and volunteers to visit our nursing homes, and our families understand why,” Matson told Alabama Media Group.

“Now they can’t visit, but we’re supposed to admit someone that’s COVID-19 positive?” Matson added.

The Jefferson County Health Department is assuring the public that it is following guidelines laid out by the CDC.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

Ainsworth: A little effort can make a big difference in the fight against the COVID-19 virus

Every American was a bit disappointed when the White House announced this week that social distancing guidelines will remain in place at least until April 30, and some governors across the nation have mandated that statewide shelter-in-place orders may be enforced until the end of June.

Working from home, avoiding contact with others and venturing into public only when absolutely necessary can make life seem much like the Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day.” Each day, the temptation to break a social distancing guideline becomes a little harder to resist and the desire to ignore protocols and immediately return to your normal routine becomes that much greater.

But facts, statistics and simple, everyday hard truths demand that we not only hold the course in the fight against COVID-19, but also practice stricter self-discipline in how we act and what we do.

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As this column is being written, Alabama is teetering on the edge of its 1,000th documented case of Coronavirus, and 19 of our fellow Alabama citizens have already succumbed to the deadly sickness.

Every indicator points to the situation getting significantly worse in our state before it begins to improve, and President Trump has ordered additional ventilators sent to Alabama from the national stockpile in order to prepare for what awaits us.

If current trends continue, Alabama’s healthcare resources will likely be pushed beyond capacity by the end of the month, and the number of hospital and ICU beds that are needed will exceed the total number we have in the state.

The good news is that Alabamians can prove all of these projections and possible doomsday scenarios wrong if we just use common sense, take self-responsibility, and follow the rules that health professionals suggest.

Too many among us are still refusing to take the COVID-19 crisis seriously, and by doing that, they threaten their own lives along with the lives of everyone they love and everyone they meet.

Since Gov. Kay Ivey declared the state’s Gulf Coast beaches closed in order to enforce social distancing, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has reported a dramatic surge in weekend traffic on Alabama’s lakes and rivers.

My family and I live by Lake Guntersville, and we have noticed the massive groups of people congregating together, jumping from party boat to party boat, and ignoring every rule about social distancing and self-isolation that the Center for Disease Control has asked us to follow.

It may come as a surprise to these weekend revelers, but sun, water and cold beer are not effective vaccines against COVID-19.

For proof of this fact, just look toward the group of University of Wisconsin-Madison students who spent their Spring Break in Gulf Shores in mid-March. Upon their return north, several of the students have displayed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19, and all of them are currently under quarantine.

Each time an individual or family decides to strictly follow CDC guidelines and do their part in the fight against coronavirus, the numbers bend in our direction, and all of us get that much closer to safely resuming normalcy.

Assuming Alabama has a daily infection rate of 20%, trends show that we can expect to have more than 245,000 total cases of COVID-19 by May 1, but if through discipline and resolve we can reduce that daily growth to 10%, a little more than 9,000 cases will occur. At 5% growth, we have only 1,600.

In other words, just a little effort and diligence from all of us can make a tremendous difference. Social distancing is recommended because the virus that causes COVID-19 can travel at least three feet when coughed or sneezed, and it can live on surfaces for days.

The rules for social distancing are easy to understand and follow, and they require you to remain at least six feet away from others, wash your hands frequently with soap, sanitize and wipe down surfaces, stay at home to stop the spread, and self-quarantine and contact your physician if you experience symptoms.

President Trump was wise to extend the social distancing requirements for at least another month, but all of us look forward to the day when future extensions will not be necessary. To accomplish that goal, we must each remember three simple things – stay smart, stay healthy and, most importantly, stay home.

Will Ainsworth is the lieutenant governor of Alabama and serves as an appointed member of Gov. Kay Ivey’s COVID-19 Task Force.

3 hours ago

Ivey says small business owners should apply for financial relief right now

Governor Kay Ivey is urging Alabama’s small businesses to gird themselves against the coronavirus-caused economic conditions by applying for financial relief from the federal government.

According to the governor’s office, the final guidelines for how the relief is to be distributed will be released soon.

However, Ivey is urging business owners to contact “their local banker, accountant, financial advisor or credit union” immediately so they can be ready for the resources when they become available.

“I urge business owners to act today and be prepared to apply for assistance designed specifically to get them in front of the line when relief checks are written,” said Ivey in a statement.

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The main source of federal relief available for small businesses is a $349 billion fund called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that was created as part of the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill.

All the loans administered by the PPP will be fully forgivable as long as two conditions are met.

Those conditions are:

  •  The loan proceeds are used to cover payroll costs, and most mortgage interest, rent, and utility costs over the 8 week period after the loan is made; and
  • Employee and compensation levels are maintained.

A detailed breakdown of the Paycheck Protection Program is available here.

The loans are available “through any existing SBA lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating,” according to the governor’s office.

Governor Ivey’s full letter to the state’s small business community can be read here.

A breakdown of the U.S. Treasury Department’s COVID-19 relief efforts can be accessed on the Treasury’s website.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 hours ago

Sessions calls for China to be investigated over handling of coronavirus outbreak

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is calling for the creation of a select congressional committee that will lead an international investigation into China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic.

Sessions, who is in the midst of a campaign for the U.S. Senate seat he once held, has made his vociferous opposition to the communist government of China a central focus of his remarks in recent days.

The longtime Alabama elected official said in a statement that he wants a “United States-led, international investigation into what China has done and what it continues to do, starting with the Chinese Communist Party’s handling of the Wuhan Virus.”

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“I am calling today for Congress to immediately establish a Select Committee on China to lead the investigation,” Sessions added.

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) have previously introduced legislation calling for an investigation into China’s handling of the initial outbreak.

Sessions’ proposed investigation seeks to go further than any that has been previously proposed.

In commenting about the Chinese regime’s relationship to COVID-19, the former U.S. Senator from Alabama said, “They caused it by silencing those who tried to warn the world, by blocking American and international scientists from coming in to stop the outbreak early, and by faking infection and death rates to downplay the seriousness of the spread. And they are continuing to use their propaganda machine to obscure the record today.”

“They cannot be allowed to succeed this time,” he remarked.

Sessions wants each of those aspects to be within the scope of his proposed investigation, and he wants “responsible members of the international community” to join with the United States to make it happen.

“We have used these types of committees before at critical moments in our nation’s history, including after the attack on Pearl Harbor, after the Watergate scandal, after the Iran-Contra Affair, and others,” said Sessions about his proposed select committee that would lead the international investigation.

Sessions also mentioned that his anger was directed at the government of China — not the citizens.

He advised the public, “We know that the Chinese people themselves are not the enemy— they are the biggest victims of the Chinese government, and exposing the truth will benefit them most of all.”

Sessions promised more aspects of his “Betting on America” plan to address the threat he feels China poses to the United States will be coming soon.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

5 hours ago

7 Things: Up to 240,000 could die in coronavirus pandemic, WH task force explains China’s role in spreading the virus, Alabama legislature looks forward and more …

7. Seattle to investigate racial slurs

  • In response to increased racism toward Asian-Americans since the start of the coronavirus, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best has told people to call 911 to “Report hate, including racist name-calling” and police “will respond to investigate.”
  • Best said that they “will document and investigate every reported hate crime,” adding that even if people are unsure “if a hate crime occurred, call 911.”

6. SEC has canceled spring meetings

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  • The spring meetings for the SEC that were planned for the end of May have been canceled. The meetings have commonly been used for rule changes for the upcoming seasons, and coaches and administrators regularly attend.
  • The SEC said in a release that they will continue to “determine alternate methods for holding meetings important to conference operations and explore opportunities to recognize award winners who [were to be] honored at the event.”

5. Abortions allowed during a pandemic, but nothing else is

  • Despite the State Health Order to ban all elective or unnecessary medical procedures, a U.S. District judge has ruled that abortions still need to be provided during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • This ruling came after the American Civil Liberties Union challenged Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s suggestion that all clinics should close and medical staff and supplies should go elsewhere.

4. This is the worst quarter for the market ever

  • The coronavirus outbreak has significantly impacted the stock market, and now the Dow Jones Industrial Average has seen its worst first quarter in 124 years, dropping 23.2% in the first quarter of this year.
  • This was also the worst overall quarter for the Dow since the market crash of 1987, and the S&P 500 has seen its worst overall quarter since 2008.

3. Alabama legislature meets, then adjourns

  • Both the Alabama State House and State Senate met Tuesday and then agreed to meet at a later date when it is safer to do so. Some members wore masks and other protective gear on the floor and kept their distance while huddled into groups discussing state business.
  • When the legislature returns they will have two areas of focus, according to State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia): economic stimulus and “bare-bones” budgets.

2. WH task force attempts to help the media understand China 

  • During questioning from reporters to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Deborah Birx highlighted how China’s disinformation hindered the United States’ response because they “were missing a significant amount of the data” from China. Birx added that the data from Spain and Italy tell a more accurate picture.
  • Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session called for a total reset of our relationship with China, saying, “America must now fundamentally reset our relationship with China. This is no time for half-measures or a slap on the wrist. This Chinese-made global health crisis should be a wake-up call. China is lying and people are dying. Enough is enough.”

1. “Painful two weeks”

  • In a rather grim press conference, President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force said the nation is on track to see between 100,000 and up to 240,000 deaths.
  • Trump appeared to be attempting to set expectations and show the nation the worst-case scenario, saying, “I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks.”